Mile High Goodbye

Well Colorado has been home for just about as long as the UK was, and tomorrow I am moving to Virginia to start a new chapter.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, replaying the horrible events that led me to move here for a second time. From that day on I watched from afar as my dad, still in England with all three kids living State side, struggled to dodge societal cracks and stay afloat in a sea of few supports. Meanwhile, I bloomed – slowly but surely in this dry and sunshiney state.

The first time I moved to Colorado I was 12 and the first of my siblings to cross the pond. My mum and step dad were living in an apartment in Littleton that to me (coming from decrepit barns my dad had renovated and a row home heated by a coal fire) looked like something from the MTV show Cribs. The two bathrooms and walk-in closets were awesome enough without the luxury of a community pool and hot tub. Talk about the American dream.

Middle school was a nightmare. On my first day I got on the yellow school bus with my mum and brother (visiting at the time) waving me goodbye. When school let out that day I walked outside mortified to see 20 identical yellow school buses without a clue which was mine. Fortunately I recognized a kid and hopped on L2 or whichever damned bus it was. I made it through eighth grade having my locker neighbor open my locker every day for three months until I figured it out, and wearing mostly hoodies due to my pubescent sweating problem that, I’ll have you know, is only exacerbated by more layers.

The summers before and after eighth grade I helped out at the horse barn my mum worked at, assisting with pony camps and riding difficult horses – like Blondie who I would canter around the polo arena for an hour so she could let off steam and hopefully not buck off the little novice riders she often sent hurling to the ground.

High school was an even worse nightmare. My freshman class had more people than my entire secondary school back in England. I didn’t understand the system, and didn’t really want to either. Over Thanksgiving I went to visit my dad and brother in England (my sister had made her move across the pond that summer), told my dad I wanted to stay, and much to my mothers understandable dismay, he let me.

The following two years were spent building an incredible group of friends, who filled the gaps left from a disjointed family. Joints were plentiful during that time however, except we called them spliffs. I smoked a lot of weed, drank a lot of vodka, ditched a lot of classes, barely got my GSCEs, started taking ecstasy at free parties (the rural British equivalent to a rave), and woke one night to the sound of yelling. At that point my brother had made his journey across the pond so it was just me and my dad living in that coal fired house. I’ve written about that night in another blog so will spare myself the details, but at age 16 I watched my dad threatened and humiliated in a way no child should ever see at any age. The next morning he said we were moving. Two weeks later I had a flight booked from Heathrow to Denver.

I returned to Littleton, this time to the Foresthill house that would stage years of memories, with a rage and reluctance only capable of a teenager. My ever wise and trying mum with her magic cups of tea, sat me down one day and reasoned with me to start over, to make the most of my situation, to give this place a chance.

Twelve years later, at the ripe old age of 28, I’m sitting in my pjs in the bunkbed room I’ve been living in for the past two months and can say I’ve truly made it. In all seriousness though, I’m blown away by all I’ve experienced and accomplished living under these blue skies, a mile above the oceans I played in as a child.

I graduated from that big scary high school, and nine years later I graduated from an even bigger and scarier school called Metro State University. I’ve made even more incredible friends, and become part of an amazing step family who have helped fill any remaining gaps. My two best friends from England have both come to visit, one of whom I almost killed hiking at altitude. My grandparents have visited twice, and my dad once came for a whole month – every day looking up at the blue sky with awe and appreciation.

Within this [no longer] hidden gem of a state I’ve hiked my butt off in the majestic Rocky Mountains, danced my heart out at the temple that is Red Rocks, and found a sense of belonging in a community I could have never dreamed of. Two days ago I went to visit the non-profit I volunteered and worked at for about 5 years. The kids welcomed me with beaming smiles and open arms – and if that doesn’t heal a heart I don’t know what does. As I sat and talked with one of the mothers I’ve become friends with I was reminded that anything is possible. On my first day working as a group leader for the after school program, a girl new to the program got upset and left the school premises. I followed her panicking and called her mum to let her know what was happening and that I was at a loss for what to do. My supervisor later told me I should have called her first. Whoops. The mum was mad, rightly so, and questioned my ability to be responsible for her child. Four years later I’m hugging the girl and her mum goodbye as I get ready for my move.

Two and a half years ago I met a Colorado native who taught me how to fish, how to maintain healthy communication in a romantic relationship, and shows me the depths of love every day. In return I’ve taught him how to make a real cup of tea, how to see each situation with a lens of empathy and humanity, and shown him what I know about traveling. To his family, please forgive me for snatching him from a state everyone wants to come to and no one wants to leave. To everyone we’ve met and loved and laughed with along the way, please come visit us as we give Virginia a chance, and learn what else can be.

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Photo taken on Guanella Pass, Colorado, 2014
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Dwelling, hustling, and loving

I’ve been wanting to write a blog since the return from Canada and have been having a struggle seizing inspiration. It’s easy when you’re traveling; everything is new and different, exciting the senses, and it feels natural to want to share it with others who are unfamiliar. Back home, familiarity can leave you taking life for granted. That’s not what I want. The purpose of this blog is for me to adorn those ordinary moments we may forget to appreciate. So now I’ll make an effort to light up some of those moments in the last few weeks.

We moved in with a friend as a temporary lodging solution to our two month stay in the Denver area before the move to Roanoke. When initially looking for potential accommodation, we expected it to be a breeze – who doesn’t want to share a bit of space with a couple nice folks for some bonus money? Turns out, it’s not that simple. It occurred to me that people like their space, they value it, they take pride in it, seek refuge in it. Just because people have the physical space to allow for more bodies to dwell there, doesn’t mean they want to share dish duty, or consider the TV volume, or feel obliged to converse first thing in the morning while in the midst of the breakfast routine. It has me ruminating further on our dwelling habits and housing structures, and what do I seek in accommodation? But that’s another subject all together.

Shauna enthusiastically let us bunk with her, literally. In her spare room Cam and I sleep on the bottom level, full sized mattress of a bunk bed. It’s not what conventional society expects of a couple in their third year of relationship together, and I’m content not living up to the convention. We’ve all had our challenges adapting to roommate life – Shauna having her refuge subject to scrutiny (though we never would), Cam spending nights in someone else’s home, cooking in someone else’s kitchen, without me, and myself striving to make it work for everyone. But adaptation is what this earth is made of, so I’m not worried, and I know when we look back on these two months we will smile and laugh at it all. I’m already laughing every time Cam and I bang our heads on the bunk bed clamoring in and out of it. Sometimes we all watch Big Brother together, and on Sunday’s Shauna texts us updates of what’s happening in the Big Brother house, and who won Head of Household. One time Tical (the Wu-Tang Mouse Dog) ate some of Cam’s beef jerky while we were loading up the Jeep for a weekend trip; he called her a little B and we ate what was left of the jerky in the somewhat slobbery bag because that stuff is expensive! I’d rather a messy life with beautiful people, than a tidy life without.

Upon the return from Canada, I soaked up four more days of leisure before being thrust back in to server life. It’s a life so hard to escape and I’ve resolved to make the most of it for now – which means indulgent sleep and lazy mornings, since I mostly work nights. I gave the morning shifts a try, one day being at work at 5:30am and the next day 6:00am. Money has never been a big motivator for me when it comes to work, which seems paradoxical but I’ll happily work more hours for less money doing what I like, than less hours for more money doing work that sucks my soul. Serving is no exception. Breakfast shifts are the money maker, but 4:00am is not a time when I want to leave the comfort of the bunk bed. So I work nights, much to Cam’s dismay, and it’s not too shabby. There have been slow nights that are great for shooting the shit with coworkers I’m going to miss, there have been busy nights when I’m the only server and feel like an Olympian multi-tasking power walker, and one semi slow night when I fucked up every table to make up for my awesome track record of not fucking things up. Such is the life of a server.

Outside of work, when I’m not enjoying lazy mornings, or sometimes simultaneously, I’m either crossing things off the list for the big move, or I’m soaking up as much time with pals as possible. It’s only really struck me in the last couple days how I might be quite sad saying goodbye to so many incredible people. I think I live for two things – working badly paid jobs with youth, and my relationships with others. The former I can no doubt find in Virginia, the latter I can find too, but none the same. Last night I text a friend at 11pm, she invited me over, we drank wine, painted face masks on each other, and chattered for hours. Goodbyes will be hard, but I have experience. I know what it’s like to look at someone through foggy eyes and know I may never see them again. I know what it’s like to feel distance, but not disconnect. I refuse to believe that connections break, maybe cell phone service or wifi connections, but not those between people. So even though there will be a gap in proximity, there will be no gap in our connection to one another, and if we do want to ease the distance thankfully we have Snapchat.

IMG_1535Enjoying a cuppa at the local tea spot – In Tea, Littleton

Life After the Sabbatical

This blog was written by myself and Cam, aka Team Clam.

The timing was perfect for us to go on an extended trip. Chloe just graduated in December, and her school year job ended in June. Our lease was up, and Cam marked five years at his grown up job at the end of May. We had dabbled with the idea of WWOOFing for a while, considering far-away lands like South Africa and Costa Rica. By Christmas time we had settled on British Columbia, partly because we could drive and camp in National Forests along the way. We also vibed with the idea of getting significant ocean time and the Rocky Mountains in the same swing.

We wanted to WWOOF for several and separate reasons. Chloe was keen on the concept of traveling internationally and long term for cheap. She was also excited to take a break from urban life and get her hands in the dirt on the regular. Cam’s motives dug deeper, as he sought training in specific organic techniques and principles. He wanted to learn about the details of how small farms make money. He needed to explore whether agriculture is truly what he wants his profession to be moving forward – the answer to that question is yes; please read on…

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Vancouver Island, BC
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Vancouver Island, BC

Every trip or vacation comes with its own set of expectations, and usually those expectations are upset by reality. Our planning was meticulous (mostly because Cam is in love with certainty), and it didn’t take long before we had to make some decisions that weren’t accounted for on the calendar. But it seems like our realities moved us in a positive direction more often than not. On day one we found that Colorado Road 318 is indeed not a highway, but a bumpy, dusty gravel path that becomes even more rickety when it crosses the border into Utah. On day four we were chased from our camp in the shadow of Mt. Hood by torrential rain and took shelter in the Portland Hyatt (thanks to Chloe’s discount). Because of the logistics of living on an island for three weeks, we had to give up hopes to visit an outdoor school were really jazzed about, and we had to prioritize weekend trips that meant a visit to Victoria wouldn’t pan out. We encountered mighty swarms of massive mosquitos and frustratingly unclear expectations from hosts. At that point, Cam had to face his “never quit” mentality head-on.

We did get what we expected when it came to wildlife. Bald eagles are like the robins of Vancouver Island. We had memorable encounters with bison, mountain goats, and seals. Chloe saw her first bear from the safety of the car. And when it comes to people, our assumptions were exceeded. Every one of our farm hosts (six in total) taught us lessons that we’ll carry with us into the next chapter. Even more impactful was the effect of living for weeks with great people who are passionate about doing good on a daily basis. We were inspired by their strength and work ethic, and we were nurtured by their cooking and parent-like guidance. Our interactions with fellow WWOOF volunteers were educative as well. Sharing stories and knowledge with people from different cultures was (and always is) enlightening. We taught each other card games, watched subtitled movies together, and tried to learn balance on the slack line. We also settled, once and for all, that the Swiss are dominant in badminton over the Americans (though the American team was actually half Brit).

So here we are, back in Colorado after two months of adventure, living out of a Jeep with a leaky roof. We’ve got a plan for what’s next for Team Clam, but it’s admittedly not as detailed as the one we had for the Canada Sabbatical. We’ll be in the Denver area for August and September. We’ll tie up loose ends, replenish our checking accounts, and unload the storage unit for a garage sale on September 3. Please come see us, and get some sweet deals on furniture, clothes, and knick-nacks. We wont be having a going away party (remember we did that before leaving for Canada). But we will be showing our Canada photos at an art walk event on First Friday, September 1; we would love for our friends and family to come join us as we close this Denver chapter in our lives.

Our next pages will be written in and around Roanoke, Virginia. Chloe’s parents moved there recently and they have made an offer that makes Cam’s dream of farming immediately attainable. In short, he will start an urban farming business that grows greens, fruits, and veggies on leased and borrowed land, and sells to farmer’s markets, CSAs, and local restaurants. Chloe will continue working with youth and seek experience in managing a small business. Long term her goals are also entrepreneurial, likely in the non-profit, youth empowerment area she loves so much. We’re hoping that venture also includes a for-profit component that incorporates her love for tea and baking.

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Nelson, BC
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Yoho National Park, BC

Before we took the sabbatical, we know it would impact us in some way. We felt restless and burned out, and we hoped the trip would bring us some settled relief. We had no idea what would come next, which brought some feelings of discomfort. But we’ve talked openly about our values and dreams going forward, and it’s led us to a plan that has us excited for the future. Having a partner who loves with an open mind and is committed to turning dreams into reality with each other in enabling in an incredible way. Not having much long-term relationship experience, this is a new propulsion for both of us.

So we encourage everyone reading to travel, yes. But more importantly to travel, and to live with intention, purpose, and inspiration. That’s the most impactful lesson for us from this experience. For now, we also encourage all our front range friends and family to come to the Team Clam garage sale and/or photo show. We already know we’re going to miss this place and all the wonderful people who’ve made it home for so long.

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Slocan Valley, BC

Canada Sabbatical Pt. VI

According to Merriam-Webster, Sabbatical is defined as “a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.” and “a break or change from a normal routine.”

Prior to this trip I was working in an environment that revolved around routine – Special Education. For someone whose utter lack of planning and aversion to predictability had become part of their identity, this was certainly an unpredictable job to land oneself in. It was a job that shook me on so many levels – frustrations with the broken education system, the many ways trauma manifests and escalations are triggered; the list goes on. Prior to this trip I broke before I could take a break; I had a panic attack in the classroom and went home on a mental health day.

Fortunately, I was then able to rest. Once we got to our first farm stay I sunk into a new routine, one of gentle structure and modest expectations. There and at a later farm stay I was able to catch up on sleep and breathe life back into myself through all the hobbies that soothe me – writing, yoga, and drinking ample amounts of tea, to name a few.

Miles traveled reached almost 6,000 once we cut the engine on the Jeep one last time. Its tires traversed vast terrains and our feet let us explore even further. Mountains, oceans, rainforests, and lakes reminded us to be humble and mindful of our respective capacities. I wonder how many of us are in a constant state of over-capacity. I know the ocean never is.

Doing research was not on my agenda for the sabbatical, but in retrospect I did do a bit of studying. Like a true lover of people watching, I studied my hosts – in particular two women from two different farms. Admittedly a little creepy, but from a place of genuine curiosity and admiration, I watched the way they moved through the world and the ways in which they contributed to it. From each their own set of qualities and quirks, I learned about appreciating ones heritage, living ones values, nurturing ones body and mind with recipes that cater to the individual, and remaining authentic in climates of uniformity.

With the Canada Sabbatical complete, I can confidently say: fuck the system, pack some bags, quit the job, and go take a break from normal routine – it’s worth it.
Of course, if you need your job quitting might not be a smart move. I don’t have all the answers (barely any) but I do recommend WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and I highly recommend finding ways to carve out time for rest, travel, and research.

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Florencia Bay, Vancouver Island, BC

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Yoho National Park, BC
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Gimli Peak, Selkirks, BC

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Gimli Peak, Selkirks, BC

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Wild Saskatoon Berries: Organic Farm in Slocan Valley, BC

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Kale: Organic Farm in Slocan Valley, BC

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Organic Farm in Slocan Valley, BC

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

 

Canada Sabbatical Pt.V

Return to the Speaker

I thought this trip was about a return to nature, but remember what thought does – it makes a fool of you. It has been about nature, that can’t be disputed. My fingernails have housed the earth, my lungs have captured wild air, my legs have become stronger from all the morning squats as I fertilize hidden spots of grass. So my expectation was accurate, and not hard to surmise when planning a trip to work on farms. But a gem was uncovered on this trip that I did not predict, and that is my love affair with speakers. Not persons who talk publicly about a certain topic, but the boxes used to amplify bass and music – those speakers.

This love affair is not new, but it was a little forgotten. It all began in a random field in Southwest England. I was 15. There was a white party tent pitched; in it a likely local electro lover with DJ skills offering up sounds that poured out of a pair of speakers and gushed through a bunch of bodies. I was given a little yellow pill, I want to say it had a smiley face on it but I could just be getting carried away. An hour later the tension and inhibitions I typically carried with me had floated away and I just danced.

As a family, we danced a lot. The mother has a healthy obsession with disco, and the father was often happy to take a break from the blues to demonstrate his knee-slapping dancing abilities. I was more than comfortable shaking a leg around the house as a youth. As a teenager though, parents had separated, teen angst had soared through me, and by 15 I was generally just trying to find the groove in a rizla to lay my weed in. I found family in a group of friends. Yet, I was still painfully self-conscious.

For a few hours in that random field, I didn’t care how I looked, how I was perceived, I just cared about convulsing to the music. I very well may have looked a twat, but I wasn’t alone. For the next couple of months I found myself in a few other random fields, necking pills and shaking legs. Just as I was finding a rhythm in the lifestyle, I was rudely awakened by a knock on my bedroom door. The father came and told me something about moving house, and a week later the mother was telling me I’d be coming to live in her house in the States. I found one more field to dance in, said goodbyes to the family I had become a part of, and moved to the suburbs.

Fields are hard to find in the suburbs. With the help of my sister though, we found some speakers. Denver and its surrounding areas had, and I believe still has, a bustling rave scene. I dove right in. After a few years, a handful of candy bracelets, enough little colorful pills, and a heart felt lecture from the mother about respecting our bodies, we drifted from the scene and found other leisurely activities to explore. Hers was hiking. Mine was drinking. It still lowered my inhibitions, and I still found speakers at concerts and attached to dive-bar juke boxes. I don’t discriminate against speaker size – it’s not the size that matters but the motion of the drunk girl swaying with her eyes closed. From fields to concert venues, I could always be found near the speaker. The deeper the bass, the closer I was. No dance partner necessary, or wanted (usually); it was just me and the speaker. One night, at some concert that promised a good beat and heavy bass, I drank so much, danced so hard, was so comforted by the speaker, I fell asleep leaning on it – front left of stage. This can be laughed at, or scorned at, either way it happened. It took a few more years for me to resolve my drinking issues, and with that resolve my relationship with the speaker dissipated. I have of course remained a live music lover and contented dancer, but the distance between myself and the amplifying sound boxes has grown.

That is until last weekend. Like I said, I thought I was just out to spend 2 months getting up close and personal with nature, but the universe had other plans. Since leaving the second farm early, we found ourselves at a third farm stay in the Slocan Valley of BC. Our host informed us when we arrived that we had landed in the best part of BC. I told him the scenery on our drive was lovely, but he meant more than that. The people, the energy, the community, these are the things he was referring to in addition to the breath taking landscape. We were also informed that there was going to be a music festival in town.

I’ve been to a few music festivals in my time. To name drop – Coachella, Wakarusa, The Hangout, Telluride Bluegrass. Large events with big name artists, ferris wheels, selfies, overpriced beer, waterfalls, extravagant lightshows, gulf beaches, towering mountain peaks. Unity Music Festival in Slocan Valley was none of these things – set on modest lake beach on the edge of a small town with not one artist I’d heard of. Decorations were simple, alcohol was prohibited, views were charming yet phones were not out to capture them, and activities consisted of paddling, socializing, and face painting at this family friendly event. Cam and I danced to a funk band, admired a violin centric hip hop trio, enjoyed smoothies and extreme grilled cheese sandwiches, laughed at the naked child gleefully bouncing his way around an inner tube, and did some rug cutting (or rather sand kicking) to a latin fusion DJ. The final set of the weekend was delivered by Ganga Giri, a didgeridoo dub musician with a seriously deep voice. To match his subterranean vocals was equally deep bass booming from the speakers. Cam joined me in more dancing before retiring to seated spectating. Amid the most authentic free-spirited, arm waving, hip gyrating, energy transgressing hippies I ever did see, my eyes fixed on a speaker front right of stage. Not yet tired enough for a nap on the sound box, I shimmied my way up there, ditched the flip flops and inhibitions (sans alcohol – well, I did have half a beer two hours prior), and attempted to summons my aboriginal roots like the man on stage. Being of English ancestry, those roots were hard to summons in just a few songs, but I did my best primal dancing anyway. Eyes closing long enough to lose myself and opening long enough to maintain some sort of orientation, as if practicing a meditative blink, I let my legs and arms loose to flail as they please. All the while, letting my long lost lover send music thundering into me.

Replenished and reminded of that fond relationship, I returned to Cam and we scampered off back to our cabin. Perhaps I’ll make a point of attending more intimate concerts in the future, or perhaps I’ll buy a great big subwoofer and do my sun salutations on it every morning. Which ever way this rekindling blows, I’m just glad for the reunion.

Processed with VSCO with b1 presetUnity Music Festival, Slocan BC

Canada Sabbatical Pt. IV

I’m not keen to write about the previous week of our journey – the second WWOOF experience we had planned, but I’ll do it anyway because it seems like the right thing to do – chronologically speaking.

Prior to arriving we were sent an email stating the mosquitos were really bad this year, and a text with a pin location on google maps. The pin was a bit dodgy but after only one u-turn we found the driveway. A dirt road led us up a hill and looped in the center of the farm. We drove around the loop as a dog followed us barking, and we peered out waiting to see a glimpse of a host. I’ll note that we didn’t stop and exit the vehicle largely due to said dog that we didn’t know and didn’t have owners in its company (the pervious farm we stayed at had a similar looking guard dog that was kept fenced on account of his inappropriate behavior with newcomers). A gal appeared and we slowed the vehicle, exited, and were greeted with “you could have just parked anywhere.”

How I felt during our five days on the farm was that I was too slow for the laid-back party. Always catching up to chill out. Never quite up to speed.

It felt a bit like middle school, a horrible time in anyone’s life but admittedly I probably have a few semi-healed wounds from those years that got a bit sensitive when picked last to go to the farmers market. There’s a bit more to it than that, but there’s no use blathering about the personality clashes between myself, Cam, and the hosts. The point is, we are messy beings, all on our own little missions, and we don’t always mesh with each other.

So that was the first ding on the experience.

The second was the mosquitos. Yes, we were warned. No, we did not anticipate just how bad it was. On our first night one of our hosts walked us around the property to show us the area and their different projects. We walked through a wooded area and my jeans were blanketed with mosquitos. Yes, it was dusk, we were among trees, I was wearing tight fitting jeans. No, it wasn’t expected that I would have a colony of blood sucking flies penetrating my jeans that were sprayed with repellant 10 minutes earlier. It’s hard to really paint a picture of how bad it was, but imagine it’s snowing, then imagine every snowflake is a mosquito.

Ok I’m exaggerating, but not by much.

The final ding that had us packing our bags and being willing to flake was simply the lack of a WWOOF experience. From what I understand, it’s typical that farmers be on the farm to teach, guide, and foster some sense of community between themselves and volunteers. Our hosts worked other jobs so were unable to fulfill those objectives. To give credit to the hosts, they work hard on and off the farm so there is definitely room for admiration in that regard. She runs a superb organic store in the nearby town; he works at a silica plant down the road. Both contribute to the workings of their permaculture farm and construction of their earthship.

It was a challenging week for the situations listed above, plus some, but that we had that experience is almost too perfect. We needed a challenge, a blow to the ego, a test in patience, a fuck you from the universe to our master plan.

There were definite moments of joy, appreciation, and education dispersed throughout the week mind you. I learned about earthships – “a type of passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials” – and participated in the making of one. Theirs is made of earth filled tires and hempcrete bricks. It’s an awesome design and construction. Washing dishes each day I found greater appreciation for eco-friendly ways to adapt simple systems. The dish cycle on this permaculture farm is to rinse washed dishes over a pan, the pan of rinse water is boiled to use for washing dishes, the dirty dish water drains into a bucket which is used for watering plants. I didn’t love doing dishes three times a day, but I did have respect for the way in which it was done. It will make me think twice about my house habits in the future. Sharing meals and stories with the two other volunteers was a breath of fresh air on a hot day of work. They are a couple from France who have been WWOOFing and exploring the US and Canada for the past year, with hitchhiking their main means of transportation. From their stories and positive energy I was reminded to laugh and trust in others.

Since leaving the farm Cam and I have joked about our five days there, but it really taught me a lot – how to work as a team through tough times, how to live a particular lifestyle of purpose, and how to strive every minute of every day to channel my inner zen while being bombarded with bug bites.

Canada Sabbatical Pt. III

After washing dishes from yet another delightful meal on the farm we were handed a notebook to take back to the WWOOF house. The notebook has been signed by each volunteer on the farm, but is much more than the standard guestbook with quick scribbles and generic thankyous. Each 8.5” x 11” page is at least half way filled with reflections; some people take two pages to reflect. Being fascinated with the human experience, and by that I mean being the nosey parker that I am, I couldn’t resist reading some of the musings written by people from all over the world. Our hosts have seven volumes of these musings. Clearly, yet I don’t think intentionally, these hosts have created a space that not only grows fresh organic produce to feed their community, but have also created a space that allows for personal growth that will affect communities world wide. Maybe that sounds grand of me, but in spite of my English heritage I think some things need not be diminished for the sake of modesty. No, we aren’t concluding our stay by sitting under a tree attaining enlightenment, but personally I do feel lighter.

The following are some highlights, that may or may not have been disguised as dark clouds in the moment, that have contributed to my personal growth while staying at this farm:

The Carrots

On our first day as WWOOFers we were each given a hoe and told to weed the carrots. Admittedly I’m a bit of a space case (for those of your who don’t know) and didn’t even fully comprehend that was the task at hand for the first few minutes; I was just trying to copy what our teacher Bryne was demonstrating. It looked to me like he was arbitrarily dragging a tool down a long patch of green stuff, dodging a certain green stuff that was totally indistinguishable from the rest. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one confused. We all gave it fair effort for about five minutes, until Bryne noticed our struggle at which time he ushered us on to another task. As the days went on we acquired some training and gained some knowledge about weeding, so by Friday two WWOOFers were sent back to the carrots to tackle the seemingly impossible yet again. This time they picked weeds by hand to avoid wiping out 20 carrots in one misguided drag of the hoe. I looked over at my fellow volunteers from the spinach, relieved I wasn’t in their shoes, or wellies as some might call them.

Monday morning my work boots moseyed over to the carrot patch carrying me with them and I was faced for the second time with a sea of green. Fortunately this time I had a partner who had about 10 minutes more experience than me and I sought her wisdom with great desperation. She pointed to the green that was a carrot and confirmed all the other green had to go. The minutes ticked as we pulled the encroaching weeds with great delicacy so as not to hurt our tiny little carrot friends.

The next day we were told to weed the carrots again, and were also told we didn’t need to do it so slowly. Our pace did not accelerate. As much as our eyes were more skilled at differentiating the greenery, we lacked the confidence and precision to annihilate the bad guys without getting some of the good guys too. There are circumstances where this happens and is accepted (by some). We weren’t prepared to make those kinds of sacrifices however.

By the end of week two it seemed as though Bryne was accepting of, or at least indifferent to, our sluggish speed at the carrot patch. It became the task we were all given when he didn’t have another task in mind. Twenty minutes til lunch – fuss with the carrots. End of the day – do a bit more weeding in the carrots.

It’s now week three and we’ve all become quite fond of those ever weeded tubers. We walk past them and look down with pride and excitement at how free they look (in comparison to when the journey began) and how tall they’ve grown. Kneeling over them I’ve bonded with our WWOOF roomies, had plenty time for quiet contemplation, and have discussed future aspirations with Cam.

There is a drawing I love that depicts two people standing next to their carrots in the ground. One person has a carrot with a big bushy top and a little carrot under the soil. The other has a carrot with a little bushy top and a big carrot under the soil. The caption reads “Success isn’t always what you see.”

Nourishment

Every WWOOFer who has stayed on this farm and signed the guestbook has mentioned the food; I haven’t read all seven volumes, but I think it’s a safe bet to say. The WWOOF house is stocked with breakfast items to prepare ourselves, and while Cam is a little stale on the carb heavy, protein light options, there’s not much room for complaint. You would be a real schafseckel (Swiss German for sheep balls) to complain about the food here.

During the week we stuff ourselves with oatmeal, guzzle some tea and make our way to the field by 8:57am. After three weeks of conditioning, my belly starts to grumble at 11:45am sharp, typically while weeding the carrots. At 12pm we all gather at the outdoor dining table and make a lunch spread. Toast pops steady for about 30 minutes while 6 different kinds of sandwiches are being made, often accompanied by salads, soups, and leftovers from supper (that’s what they call it here and I enjoy its old-timey charm).

Never is there a dull face among the WWOOFers when we make way to 6pm supper. Yes, the food is delicious and plentiful – one person wrote in the guestbook that they had hoped to lose weight during their stay but instead they got fat, which gave me a good chuckle – but there’s more to it than that. Our hosts are under no obligation to provide such careful, wholesome, exquisite meals; they choose to cater in this way. It pleases them to provide good food, and of course it pleases their guests too – the proof is in the pudding, I mean guestbook.

The following excerpt from a blog post by our host Barbara gives some insight to her culinary philosophies:
“I have always enjoyed cooking and baking for my family and friends. I read once in an Ayurveda cook book that in India there are songs that women sing for preparing food. These songs infuse the food with love and good thoughts. This is how all food should be prepared. Much like the food we grow here on the farm our energy and thought patterns are transferred to the plants and into the crops we lovingly care for. The same thing applies to the food we are handling and preparing for a meal.”
More of her wonderful philosophies and farm knowledge can be found here: https://ironwoodfannybay.blogspot.ca/2011/06/whats-for-supper.html
(She hasn’t posted in a while, but the content is rather timeless)

Each night our bodies are nourished with entrees accompanied by farm fresh produce and Prussian breads, often followed by a homemade dessert. As cutlery clinks and taste buds rejoice, our minds are nourished too. Conversation is as rich as the rye. From cultural norms to personal anecdotes, Inuit diets to the history or fermentation, male strippers to commercial fishers, the exchanges are plentiful. Cam has been in conversation heaven. He is a sponge for knowledge and our hosts are happy to oblige.

What I’ve found to be nourishing, without knowing I was in need, is the opportunity to sit and listen. There was a time when sitting with people in conversation about topics I wasn’t knowledgeable about was daunting for me. Still there are times when I feel embarrassed for all the things I don’t know, but I’ve become more comfortable asking, and lately listening. I’ve learned that while I am, as a dear friend likes to say, “a sun loving flower” – someone who loves to speak, or perhaps just be in the light – I enjoy some shade from time to time too. While getting my degree in Human Services I took a class about small group dynamics, and the group I worked with in that class did a presentation on termination at the end of the semester. We gave our classmates a small gift to honor our time together as a group, and to wish them well as they transitioned to the next semester. The gift was a card with a quote that read “Speak in such a way others love to listen to you, listen in such a way others love to speak to you.” This, we thought, and I still think, is a valuable skill to strive for in Human Services. These past few weeks I have been listening. Admittedly I do still have a tendency to zone out – but I’m not out here trying to be perfect. Something I heard tonight at the table is that people have become scared to think for themselves. It’s those sound bites that make listening so worth while, when we hear something that resonates and makes us wonder, “hm.. what do I think about that?”

Bugs and others.

Somehow I didn’t anticipate how closely I would be working with bugs when I signed up to work on a farm. Mosquitos were a consideration; no other flying, crawling, wriggling little creature crossed my mind. This lack of totally obvious foresight was probably for the best, however, because I hate bugs. I really do just hate them.

Well, there are lots of bugs on a farm I’ll have you know, and I am face to face with my fears, tiny as they may be, every day. My first encounter was before we even got to the farm. We were walking at night in West Vancouver – perfectly manicured – and I realized slugs were all about the place. I had flashbacks of rolling down hills as a kid in England and squirming as I realized mid roll I’d have to try and dodge the slugs so as not to smoosh one with my ear or elbow as I tumbled down. There are no shortage of slugs here on this moist veggie-ful farm and I’ve solidified they are in fact second on my list of most hated bugs and others (apparently it’s a mollusc), after spiders of course. My memory seems to believe all the slugs in England looked about the same – kind of brown and as long as my finger. On this farm, they are all shapes and sizes and colors, which makes them so much more of a bother because they can be so inconspicuous. Last weekend we went to the west coast of Vancouver Island to camp and fish and go to the beach. After a long day of not catching any fish, then cooking dinner late at the campsite, I was excited to sit at the fire with some tea and chocolate. The fire was lit, tea made, I reached for the chocolate and what was lurking on the wrapper? A horrible, slimy, sneaky slug. Thankfully, the chocolate was safe inside the wrapper and was consumed with no further frights. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t give each object a 360 with the lantern to check for imposters before picking anything up again for the rest of the night.

Progress has been made mind you. Today while planting tomatoes I grabbed the bottom of the container to turn it upside and remove the plant. I felt the squish and saw the little bugger, but managed to flick it away and carry on with my life in a pretty efficient manner. All this digging and weeding, I’ve come across all kinds of creepy crawlies. Being in their territory, I feel it’s only right to to work on respecting their home. I’ve even calmed my nerves around the spiders. There is a kind of spider that just loves the strawberry patch which grows in a bed of straw. Spiders scurry around in there like crazy, and to be honest if I were that size it does look like a fun place to be. So when I pick the strawberries I try to appreciate the natural ecosystem I’m working in and even train myself to think logically about how the spider is scared of me too. Logic still fails me when they are in my home though. Last night I heard Cam just outside the bedroom say something about a huge spider and told me to come look at it. In the bedroom I weighed in my mind curiosity against fear to determine if I’d go have a look, but was interrupted by the sight of Cam’s face following the spider around the doorway into the bedroom. It almost seemed as though he maneuvered it in there with his eyes and I felt like saying “why did you send him in here!?” But we had more serious issues on our hands by that point; the spider ran down the wall under the bed. Cam tried to act like nothing could be done when the spider was unreachable located centrally under said bed, but I let him know that something could definitely be done, and needed to be done. He tried to strategize a team effort which involved him coaxing it out toward me so I could squish it with a book, but I didn’t want to look enough to target it so Cam had to complete the whole plan singlehandedly. It wasn’t a situation that resulted in him being impressed with me, but I’m accepting of my shortcomings and he seems to be too. That’s something else I’m still learning – we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. Sometimes our strength is recognizing our weaknesses, and sometimes our weakness is not recognizing our strengths.